"Companies that squelch creativity can no longer compete with companies that champion creativity."
When both my daughter and husband sat and devoured Hugh MacLeod’s Ignore Everybody: And 39 Other Keys to Creativity in one sitting, I knew it must be good. So of course, I had to pry it away so I could check it out for myself. Now they are both creative types, so I could see why the title would grab them, but you don’t have to be creative to get something out of this book, in fact the author would argue that we are all creative in our own way.
This small but mighty book is full of straight-shooting comments about creativity, including cartoons, making it an amusing read. While the author has a flip turn of phrase and caustic sense of humour, he makes valid points and thought-provoking observations about the creative process, both from his perspective as a copywriter and within the business world.
We are all creative
"Everyone is born creative; everyone is given a box of crayons in kindergarten. Then when you hit puberty, they take the crayons away… Being suddenly hit years later with the ‘creative bug’ is just a wee voice telling you, ‘I’d like my crayons back, please.’"
I’d never really considered myself creative, not like my daughter who can turn her hand to all things artistic, but MacLeod got me thinking. He talks about that “wee voice” urging you to make something, not necessarily to sell something, because creativity, he believes, can’t be money-driven.
Clearly he is a purist, and he talks passionately about how the “wee voice” is back because your soul depends on it. There’s something you haven’t said or done, he claims, and he urges the reader to take care of it. Now. Ignore the adult voice that mocks your dream of writing a book, for example, and to let go your fear and just do it.
But his book is not just about individual creativity, he also sheds light on how to foster creativity in the workplace, in your team.
And how to stand tall and draw that line in the sand on what you will do, and what you won’t in the name of creativity. I certainly identified with this point, having heard my graphic designer daughter frequently complain that “it’s hard to do ugly,” but if someone is paying you, you have less control of the end product.
Ignore the naysayers
"Great ideas alter the power balance in relationships, which is why initially they are resisted."
MacLeod observes that we spend a lot of time being impressed by folks we’ve never met. And even more time, trying to keep up with them. So he argues that your idea doesn’t have to be big, it just has to be yours alone, because the more it belongs to you, the more freedom you have to do something really amazing.
He also cautions that advice or opinions from friends and family are not to be relied upon at first, because they don’t know your work environment and are scared that if the idea takes off, you will change.
This observation fits well with what I have noticed when women start their businesses, as often friends and family are not as supportive as you would think, and part of it stems from their fear that if the business takes off, you will change and leave them behind.
So in the early days, we have to be prepared to soldier on, alone. In fact, he goes as far as to say that “good ideas have lonely childhoods.”
However, when your idea catches on, new problems arise. While good ideas don’t exist in a vacuum, they exist in a social context, the more successful you become, the more people want a piece of the action and not everyone has the same agenda as you.
But you have to put the hours in, he advises. The hard truth, he adds, is that if somebody in your industry is more successful than you, it’s probably because he works harder at it than you do. Being good at anything makes it look easy, and it is never that easy. A point that people sometimes conveniently forget.
Certainly running a successful business means you have to build the stamina and resilience to withstand the storms, the twists and turns, and in fact often it is creativity, innovation and flexibility that helps you stay afloat.
When you are ready, it will happen
"The best way to get approval is not to need it."
This statement, he acknowledges, is equally applicable to art and business. It all boils down to not needing anything from another person in order to be the best at what you do.
In other words, it’s an inside game. It’s about believing in yourself, following your heart and doing what speaks to you. Like how animals can smell fear, people who are ‘ready’ give off a different vibe from those who are not. It is their quiet confidence in themselves and what they are doing.
His point is that power is never given, power is taken. The minute you are ready, you move from becoming to doing. You’ve paid your dues and it’s time to collect.
He also finds that the more talented someone is, the less they need the props. “A fancy tool just gives the second-rater one more pillar to hide behind.” As I said, he doesn’t mince his words.
Whether you see yourself as creative or not, this book has something to offer. It is an easy read, and while some of his words may jolt, shock or rile you, MacLeod does start you thinking with his observations and pithy comments. One word of caution, his language in the cartoons may be a tad too colourful for some, but I guess it’s back to the shock value.
Are you creative? I encourage you to look at creativity through a different lens. It could be cooking, gardening, decorating, writing or coming up with names for businesses, whatever. Who knows, there may be a kernel of creativity hidden deep in your core, just waiting to be unlocked and let loose in the world. And with MacLeod’s insights, you may avoid some of the pitfalls and fast track your way on a whole new journey.